Monday, October 1, 2012

You Don't Know Jack, But Its Okay

I Don't Know Jack!
Something that I've learned as I learn more is just how little I really do know when compared to the vast body of knowledge available at my fingertips. Today we have access to so much knowledge that it would be impossible to consume it all. More knowledge is constantly being discovered, so I'd be fighting a losing battle if I tried to consume it all. When we look at the numerous disciplines that one may earn a degree in at the local university and all the research required to master the material, it is overwhelming. And when we realize that people in every one of these fields are gathering more, we realize that the knowledge base is growing not additionally but exponentially.

I have mixed feelings when I reflect on all the knowledge that I don't possess when compared to what I do have. There is a certain level of humility that is experienced that is so great that even that word doesn't do the feeling justice. If I were to ever claim that I understand a subject, its indistinguishably guaranteed that someone else understands it better. And since there are so many disciplines of knowledge, it is important for me to understand that even though I may think I'm a master of my field, I am an ignoramus when it comes to practically every other field of knowledge. Due to this reality of my lack of knowledge, my pride must stay in check, lest I be made the fool in discussion or debate.


On Consistency and Testing
A couple years ago, I wrote a post about the importance of finding consistency among knowledge disciplines when forming a worldview. The lack of knowledge forces humans to work together to discover what is true and what is false about reality. Of course, this cooperation is not limited to just a few disciplines (which include numerous sub-disciplines), but all disciplines of knowledge. This reality of every person on earth (even the most intelligent of us) creates an inner tension that provides an interesting series of tests of worldviews (assuming that the worldviews being tested do value truth about reality).

Direct Negative Tests
And we don't have to get too specific in the worldviews being tested. We can actually be quite general here. For example, any worldview that holds that all knowledge can be obtained is falsified by this reality. Even if man was able to obtain all knowledge, the very continuation of time would create a universe-worth of new facts to obtain. There would be no time to act based on the knowledge because knowledge would be being obtained in perpetuity.

Another example of a general worldview that is "under the gun" is any worldview that holds that knowledge will save humanity. Without going into whatever it is that humanity is being saved from, how can we know that knowledge will save humanity from it? The reason that I ask this is because no single human would have knowledge of every perspective. In order to "save" humanity with knowledge, the knowledge must be acted upon. And it must be acted upon perfectly. No worldview that states that knowledge will save humanity from anything can possibly be true because of such knowledge is not possible to attain, much less, be acted upon.

Compatibility and Incompatibility Tests
Now allow me to switch gears to providing the ridiculous lack of knowledge as supporting evidence for a general worldview. If we understand that such a lack of knowledge requires humility, any worldview that holds that understanding should be approached humbly would be one that cannot be removed from the table as being possibly true. This test can be articulated in a way to show incompatibility with reality by examining if a worldview promotes the lack of humility in our knowledge. If a worldview promotes such a thing, then we can say that it is incompatible with the reality of the lack knowledge.

Also, any worldview that encourages interaction among people with different knowledge is also in the realm of possibility. Without interaction there is no way to test beliefs for truth. If a worldview values truth, it will value interaction and testing of beliefs, including its own claims to truth. If there is a worldview that promotes individuality in obtaining knowledge and/or denies the importance of testing claims (including its own), then it can be disregarded as incompatible with the reality of the lack of knowledge.

Applying The Tests
The first test that I mentioned does not directly apply to any worldview that I am aware of. I don't believe that any worldview actually directly claims that man will obtain all knowledge. They may hold it as a goal, but not necessarily an attainable one. I could be wrong on that, but if I am, we can immediately remove it from the realm of possibility. This test is used indirectly. The second test depends on this test. If knowledge is to save humanity, it must be complete. So, if a worldview directly claims that knowledge will save humanity, it is also claiming that knowledge will be complete. So, by the necessary connection between knowledge saving humanity and the need for knowledge to be complete, the first and second test work together to falsify those worldviews.

An example of a worldview eliminated from the realm of possibly being true by these tests is just about any form of humanism. Though different strains of humanism may hold that different things are wrong with humanity, they have the common thread that humanity can overcome its ultimate problem by way of knowledge.

The third and fourth tests focus on the individual. Some worldviews are very individualistic. They teach that a person's ultimate concern is themselves (altruistic behavior is predicated on making themselves feel better in these worldviews but provide no eternal reason to be altruistic). If we approach our chosen disciplines of knowledge believing that everything is about us, humility, willingness to interact with other people honestly, and a desire to authentically test our beliefs (and thus find the truth) becomes impossible.

An example of a general worldview that falls into this category is any naturalistic worldview where the person has created all the purposes of their lives around them. Interestingly enough, when you combine these two tests with the other two, the reality of the lack of knowledge virtually removes all forms of naturalism from being possibly true. In naturalism a person is free to decide their own purposes for their lives (there is no ultimate or objective purpose). Those purposes will ultimately either focus on others or themselves (an argument could be made for the only ultimate focus being the individual, but I'm not going to go into that here). The first set of tests takes out the first possibility and the second set removes the second possibility...what's left of naturalism?

My Mixed Feelings
As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, I do have mixed feelings on the overwhelming lack of knowledge that I possess. I am humbled by it, and I am excited by it. I am humbled because in understanding my own lack of knowledge, I realize that I'm not all that I like to think that I am. That humility allows my mind to be more free to listen to and ponder opposing ideas and perspectives. The fact that I understand that I don't know everything (and I'm pretty good at knowing what I don't know), that I don't have some image of myself that I have to protect. My pride can relax, and that allows my interactions with others to be authentic and any tests that I bring against my views to be performed honestly. I am free to alter my beliefs about reality as more of reality is made known to me.

I am also excited, for two reasons. First, as I've shown in this post, one of the worldviews that stands in direct opposition to Christianity is naturalism. The lack of knowledge that I have is powerful evidence that naturalism is false. So, by having already rejected naturalism as true, I know that I'm on the right track to truth. Second, Christianity teaches us two things that are demanded by any individual's (or even collection of them) lack of knowledge: humility and working in community (the Body of Christ).

We Are Not Created For Knowledge
Ultimately, Christianity teaches that our ultimate purpose in life is not to gain all the knowledge in the world. Rather we were created for God. Without knowledge of and about God, we are forced to struggle with the resources God has given us (His creation and His Word), to make the knowledge that we attain personal and real in a sense that knowledge just dumped into our heads at the beginning could not accomplish. Most people appreciate and value knowledge that they had to work hard to obtain (most of the time through many years of struggle and pain). This means that the lack of knowledge, itself, has a purpose! God created us to not be omniscient in order to discover Him and who (and what) we as human beings really are. If we fully understood every purpose behind every happenstance in our lives, that knowledge would not be worked for, nor appreciated, nor would it compel action in our lives. Sometimes God hides himself specifically so that we will reap the benefits of discovering Him (see Ravi Zacharias' book "The Grand Weaver" paperback or Kindle).

When we discover the love of God for us despite how ignorant and wretched we are, we are compelled to love Him back, which requires a personal relationship. And that personal relationship will reveal our specific objective purposes for our lives (please refer to Rick Warren's "The Purpose-Driven Life" [paperback, Kindle, audio] for a biblical case for five specific purpose for your life).

Conclusion
The lack of knowledge is a humbling realization, but it also is fulfilling. The understanding that the lack of knowledge holds in tension yet fully explains two sets of realities:

1. That we have objective purpose in life given to us by the Creator of the universe, yet we must remain humble, and
2. That God has a purpose for the pain he is taking us through, yet he seems so hidden in our lives

These two create well-rounded understandings of the lack of knowledge that I observe that no other worldview can come even close to providing. Combined with the power to rule out many competing worldviews, the lack of knowledge that we each know we have provides extremely powerful evidence for the truth of the Christian worldview.

3 comments:

  1. I agree with the premise of this post, just not the Christian spin at the end. You are considering how limited the knowledge you hold is compared to available knowledge. Atheists are more likely to consider the limited knowledge they hold against knowledge not yet available. For instance, the origin of the universe and of life are unknown to us as of yet, this is humbling as you mentioned. Christians claim to know the origin of the universe and of life, which, without evidence outside of your holy book, seems strangely egotistical to us. No offense.

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  2. Grundy,
    Thank you for your comment. I find it quite odd that you state that Christians do not offer evidence for their conclusions outside of the Bible. Please check out these two books for the positive case for the Christian God being the creator of both the universe and life:

    Creator and the Cosmos
    Origins of Life
    More Than a Theory
    Creating Life In The Lab

    You may also refer to several of my posts where I build a case for the God of the Bible being the designer here

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Four books"...(where's my coffee?)

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